The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) today announced that Asiana Airlines, an airline based in the Republic of Korea, violated federal law last July by failing to adhere to the assurances in its family assistance plan following the crash of Asiana flight 214 at San Francisco International Airport. DOT fined Asiana $500,000 and ordered the airline to cease and desist from further violations. This is the first time that DOT has issued a fine under this statute.
"In the very rare event of a crash, airlines have a responsibility to provide their full support to help passengers and their families by following all the elements of their family assistance plans," said U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx. "The last thing families and passengers should have to worry about at such a stressful time is how to get information from their carrier. At DOT, we are committed to protecting consumers and their families when they travel and will continue to take enforcement action when federal statutes are violated."
The Foreign Air Carrier Family Support Act of 1997 requires that foreign air carriers assure the U.S. Department of Transportation and the National Transportation Safety Board that they will provide various services to passengers and their families by adhering to a "family assistance plan" in the event of aircraft accidents resulting in a major loss of life. Foreign air carriers must, among other requirements, publicize and staff a reliable, toll-free telephone number to take calls from families of passengers involved in an aircraft accident; notify the families of passengers involved in an aircraft accident as soon as practicable after the foreign air carrier has verified the identity of a passenger on the foreign aircraft, whether or not the names of all of the passengers have been verified; and commit sufficient resources to carry out the family assistance plan.
On July 6, 2013, Asiana flight 214, operating from Seoul Incheon International Airport to San Francisco International Airport, crashed while landing. For approximately one day following the crash, Asiana failed to widely publicize any telephone number for family members of those onboard, and the only number generally available to the public that family members could call was Asiana's toll-free reservations line. Locating this phone number on Asiana's website required significant effort. The reservations line did not include a separate menu option for calls related to the crash and callers were required to navigate through cumbersome automated menus before being connected to an Asiana employee.
In addition, Asiana took two full days to successfully contact the families of just three-quarters of the passengers. The families of several passengers were not contacted until five days following the crash.
Asiana's response to the crash of flight 214 indicates that the carrier failed to commit sufficient resources to carry out its family assistance plan. Asiana also took two days to send a sufficient number of trained personnel to San Francisco, initially lacked an adequate number of staff able to communicate in the languages spoken by the flight's passengers, and had no pre-existing contract for the cleaning and returning of passenger property. Not until five days following the crash did Asiana possess the resources necessary to carry out all of the air carrier's responsibilities under the Act.